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New state law changes accreditation process for N.C. universities


The North Carolina Legislative Building sits in Raleigh on Monday, April 24, 2023.

Gov. Roy Cooper signed a new bill into law earlier this month that will change the accreditation process for universities and community colleges in North Carolina. House Bill 8 will require universities to find new accreditors after every cycle. 

Accreditation refers to the process of review that ensures the quality of university institutions and programs. This process occurs approximately every eight to 10 years and impacts the federal financial aid universities receive.  

Sallie Russell, former UNC trustee and healthcare director, said the University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). SACSCOC is responsible for the accreditation of all schools in the South. 

Russell said having the same accreditor over time impacts how schools are evaluated. 

“We’ve been accredited by SACSCOC for a long time and that creates a longitudinal knowledge base, and that’s helpful to have when you’re dealing with assessing the quality of their curriculum,” she said.  

Every accreditation agency is responsible for enforcing the requirements of the U.S. Department of Education, Russell said. By having to change accreditors after every cycle, she said other agencies may not rigorously evaluate curriculum requirements. 

Accreditation is a peer-reviewed process made up of university and college officials. 

Since the accreditation process is run by faculty, Rosalind Fuse-Hall, director of legal and governmental affairs and commission support at SACSCOC, said the new procedure will be “time-consuming and costly.” 

Russell said the changes to accreditation will not just impact faculty, but students as well. She said because some accrediting agencies are more highly regarded than others, a student’s degree may not qualify for other schools.  

“I think the risk is they end up getting a lousy accrediting agency or one that is not respected by other schools,” she said. “If that happened you might not be able to get into a graduate program that you want to get into because they're not going to accept your credit transfer.” 

The number of grants and money for research will also impact students because federal aid is not provided if the University does not receive accreditation, Russell said. 

Fuse-Hall said the obstacles faculty will have to navigate to carry out these new regulations in finding different accreditors every cycle outweigh any positive impacts the bill may have, if any.

The changes to accreditation were in H.B. 8, titled “Computer Sci. Grad Requirement." Lawmakers added the change to the unrelated bill requiring high school students to pass a computer science course to graduate.

Upon signing the bill into law, Cooper said in a written statement that although the measures to improve coding and computer skills will help high school students, the accreditation changes should be revised. 

"The changes to the university and community college accreditation process are onerous and will add an unnecessary burden and increase costs for our public higher education institutions," he said. "The General Assembly should reevaluate these requirements."

Russell said the procedure to approve this bill and the way it was presented to the House was unfortunate. 

“That process was really not a good process to follow for putting a big piece of legislation in, which will affect the educational institutions of every public university and community college in the state of North Carolina,” she said. 

Janea Johnson, public relations and data specialist at SACSCOC, said it will take time to evaluate the true impact this bill will have on universities. 

“It's definitely difficult to predict how this will play itself out because institutions haven't switched accreditors yet,” she said. “They saw their legislation and that process will take up to years to fully implement because different institutions are on different accreditation cycles.” 

The next time UNC will be up for accreditation approval by SACSCOC is in 2027. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly included a quotation from an individual who was interviewed for a separate story. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

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